We recently visited our cousins on the Hannan side of the family in Clarens in the Free State, Peter and Toni Badcock Walters. A few years ago they decided to retire there, and bought an old sheep-shearing shed in the grounds of the Clarens Golf and Trout Estate. Most of the houses on the estate are brand new rather posh dachas for rich city folks, but theirs was one of the orginal buildings, which they converted into a dwelling house, and three self-catering holiday apartments which they let out, and a fourth in an outbuilding, called “The Shepherd’s Loft”. The whole is called Clarens Country House, and you can learn more about it here.
While visiting them we stayed in the Shepherd’s Loft, which is above the garage, and very comfortable. The other three apartments were also occupied.
Peter and Toni live in about a third of the building, and are also converting part of it into an art gallery.Their kitchen has walls build of sandstone from the surrounding hills, and on some of them are scratched the tally marks by which the sheep shearers kept track of the number of sheep they had sheared.
Many of the Free State villages and small towns one passes through are suffering from the new highways that bypass them. Villiers, for example, used to boast several cafes that were patronised by motorists passing through between Johannesburg and Durban. But now they stop at the cafes beside the freeways, and Villiers is dead. Now you’re hard put to find a stale pie there.
Clarens, however, has reinvented itself as a tourist mecca. It boasts a number of very good restaurants (and none of the big chains, like Wimpy, MacDonalds, Spur etc), and an independent brewery. There are several art galleries, craft shops, and an independent bookshop. On most weekends the town is crowded with visitors. It’s about 330 km from Johannesburg, 400 from Pretoria. Peter and Toni’s son Craig (alias Knot the Juggler) has recently opened a novelty and magic shop called The Henn’s Tooth. It’s too new to have much atmosphere yet, but give it time, and it may look like something out of Diagon Alley.
It was good to see Toni and Peter again, and good to see the progress they have made in turning the old sheep shed into a habitable space.